Category: aging research

We May Have Found a Pathway That Controls Aging

Cracking Aging in Animals

A team of researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has identified a conserved molecular pathway that controls health and lifespan in nematode worms (Caenorhabditis elegans) — a frequently studied model organism in biological research.

“We find that by artificially increasing or decreasing the levels of a family of proteins called Kruppel-like transcription factors (KLFs), we can actually get C. elegans to live for longer or shorter time periods,” study first author Dr. Nelson Hsieh said to Sci News. “Since this same family of proteins also exists in mammals, what is really exciting is that our data suggests KLFs also have similar effects on aging in mammals, too.”

Animal models are essential to biological research. To study a human disease or process you can’t perform most preliminary work on humans for ethical reasons. Therefore, you must instead develop a model. While some models can stay in vitro (outside a living body) eventually you must be able to produce the disease in a context that allows study — e.g. in a living body. Animal models, such as nematode worms and mice, enable a much closer approximation to a human response to disease and other processes.

Image Credit: Hsieh et al./Nature
Image Credit: Hsieh et al./Nature

Mice share 99 percent of their DNA with humans, and have short  lifespans compared to humans and other mammals. Therefore, studies with mice involving “knockout” genes allows researchers to observe the effects of removing single genes. C. elegans is also useful, especially in aging research, for several reasons. For one, the worms have a short three day lifecycle, allowing researchers to observe many generations quickly. They are very simple organisms, which makes the effects of single proteins much easier to see. C. elegans’ genome was sequenced by the end of 1998, so scientists have had ample opportunities to experiment with this relatively short, but very well-known, genome.

Lessons Applied to Humans

The research also demonstrated that C. elegans with high levels of KLF proteins lived healthier, longer lives than normal worms. Similarly, mice with elevated levels of KLF proteins were found to exhibit a delay in age-related blood vessel dysfunction. The team determined that the KLF proteins’ function is to control autophagy — a quality control mechanism that allows cells to clear up debris such as molecular byproducts and misfolded proteins that build over time, reaching critical mass in old age. Loss of this process of cleaning and recycling is a classic sign of aging.

Cells are less able to undertake these recycling functions as they age. Once an unsustainable level of toxic debris builds up, cellular survival is threatened. This is why the team observed worms without KLF proteins dying early, as their cells were no longer able to maintain autophagy. From here, the researchers plan to study how autophagy affects blood vessel function, and develop strategies for targeting KLF proteins in humans.

“The observation that KLF levels decrease with age and that sustained levels of KLFs can prevent the age-associated loss of blood vessel function is intriguing given that vascular dysfunction contributes significantly to diverse age-associated conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and dementia,” senior author Professor Mukesh K. Jain said to Sci News.

“As our population ages, we need to understand what happens to our heart and arteries, as we rely on them to function perfectly later and later on in our lives,” Dr. Hsieh added to Sci News. “Our findings illuminate what can happen during aging, and provide a foundation to designing interventions which slow these processes.”

The post We May Have Found a Pathway That Controls Aging appeared first on Futurism.

Living Forever Will Only Benefit Humanity If We’re Also Healthy Forever

Modern Longevity Research

For humans, we are still very far from the possibility of achieving immortality (or anything remotely close to it). However, we’re continuously extending our lifespan, and as scientists work on the potential to overcome aging, longevity research has come into vogue. As science, medicine, and technology all bloom (and those able to invest in biotechnology age), more and more entrepreneurs are focusing on mortality and longevity. And currently, signs of progress in the quest to extend human life are everywhere. Nations such as Japan are redefining what “elderly” means as more citizens pass retirement age and fewer families have children. One group of scientists is even pushing to have aging itself reclassified as a disease, and there is an ongoing debate in the community about whether there is ultimately a limit to how long humans can live.

Startups combining longevity and artificial intelligence (AI) research to find a “cure” for aging are gaining traction and funding. Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) was able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for its genome project and some Silicon Valley innovators even see death as “optional.” Of course, no one really wants to live forever if they’re sick in bed, or devastatingly tired or suffering in too much pain to enjoy their extra time. Tacking on extra years or even decades might not be worth it if those spans of time are filled with severe Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. Researchers are now exploring longevity in new ways and changing how we think about aging. They are focusing on the health span rather than the lifespan alone, and on how to care for neurons, mitochondria, and other components of the human body that appear to control how we cope (or fail to cope) with age and disease.

Image Credit: geralt/Pixabay
Image Credit: Geralt/Pixabay

From animal studies on caloric restriction, scientists have discovered several biological pathways that are likely central to aging, corresponding to growth and inflammation, among other processes. Now they are focusing drug research in these areas, which has led to promising results with  drugs like rapamycin which has extended life in lab animals. Researchers have also analyzed the genetics of human “super-agers” who live into their 100s while remaining healthy throughout their lives. However, there are many factors involved in this complex process and it is exceedingly difficult to get real long-term data from humans.

Forests and Trees

Some scientists are recognizing that even technologies incapable (right now) of increasing the health span of all humans need to be discussed right now. For example, CRISPR might be a viable life extension tool someday; eventually we might be prepared to more deeply explore bioethical issues once we’re ready to use the tool in advanced ways. Recent research on a worm that has survived for millions of years without sexual reproduction by cloning itself also presents a fascinating — and ethically fraught — area for discussion. These won’t be the only ethical challenges we face should we significantly extend the human lifespan. Economic disparity, hunger, and overpopulation, for example, are already massive issues for humans all over the world. Longer lifespans would only heighten these inequities without necessarily drawing more attention to them. Ironically, this closer focus on aging may also allow us (or force us) to rethink our medical system as a whole, and transform our way of thinking from a reactionary school of thought that focuses on illnesses to a preventative model that focuses on wellness. If so, this will have broader benefits for everyone, regardless of life and health spans.

The post Living Forever Will Only Benefit Humanity If We’re Also Healthy Forever appeared first on Futurism.